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THE 50/50 PROJECT: Seeing Uluru at sunset

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This year I had a significant birthday, and so I drew up a list of fifty dreams, ambitions and desires that I call THE 50/50 PROJECT (I guess that gives away what kind of significant birthday I endured!)

The list is not static - as I think of new things I badly want to do, I add it to the list (though this means I have to remove something else.)

However, right from the start I've had on my list:


SEE ULURU AT SUNSET

So my husband and I took a romantic weekend away in early November to visit Ulura in the Red Centre of Australia. We flew into the Ayers Rock Resort on Friday night and stayed at Longitude 131, which is right inside the national park. It's a row of fifteen glamorous 'tents' with amazing views of Uluru - you can watch the sunrise over the rock from your own bed.   


Our first night there we were taken out to see the famous rock change colours as the sun goes down. It really is extraordinary - this huge monolith rising from the flat desert scrub, changing from brown to red to orange to violet as the stars begin to shine. 


We then walked the Field of Stars art installation by the British artist Bruce Munro which was just magical:



(I didn't take this photo - it was too dark by the time we got there. This photo is by Mark Pickthall from AU ABROAD)

Then we had a magical dinner under the stars, while our guides from Longitude 131 told us stories of the stars spread out above us and we listened to a local play the didgeridoo. It was really magical.

Over the next few days we walked into the gorges of Kata Tjuta, and learnt from our guide the convulsive geographical events the led to the formation of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and were told about many of the fascinating native plants and wild flowers growing in the desert. 



We also walked around the base of Uluru, and heard some of the Dreamtime stories of the local Pitjantjatjara people - you can just imagine how much I loved that. I was particularly struck by how deeply embedded the stories were in the landscape. Many myths of the world have been unanchored from place, but the stories of the Pitjantjatjara are inspired by, and proven by, the unique rock outcrops and waterholes and flora and fauna of the area, and cannot be cut free of them.



We watched the sun set and the moon rise over the great orange mound of rock, and then returned for another delicious meal of local produce - including kangaroo. 



It truly was an amazing experience and I am so glad we went. The lovely people at Longitude 131 looked after us so well, and I learnt so much. 

And I'm happy to have crossed one more thing off my list of The 50/50 Project



SPOTLIGHT: William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites 

William Blake was born today, two hundred and sixty years ago. He was a poet, painter and visionary who was virtually unknown in his lifetime. 
Nowadays he is widely celebrated, even being named No 38 in the BBC’s 2002 poll of 100 Greatest Britons. 

Yet few know that it was another young British painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was instrumental in saving him from obscurity. 

        

     William Blake, painted by Thomas Phillips (1807)  

                      

      A self-portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, drawn in 1847 


Rossetti first became interested in Blake after reading about him in Allan Cunningham’s The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, published in 1830. He was intrigued by this man who saw angels and devils, and who implored humanity to cast off their ‘mind-forg’d manacles.’ Like Rossetti, Blake was educated at home by his mother, showed extraordinary early promise as an artist, wrote poetry as well as painted, and was interested in the work of such unfashionable artists as Raphael, Michelangelo and Durer. 

One day Rossetti heard that an attendant at the British Museum had a battered old notebook in which Blake had drafted poems and scribbled sketches, mostly in pencil. On 30 April 1847, when he was just nineteen years old, Rossetti purchased the manuscript from the attendant, William Palmer, whose artist-brother Samuel had been a pupil of Blake’s in his final years. Rossetti paid ten shillings for it, which he borrowed from his long-suffering younger brother William Michael Rossetti. 

              

Blake had begun writing and drawing in the notebook in February 1787, and continued to work in it for the next thirty years. When he reached the end of the notebook, probably around 1793, he turned it upside down and began working from the end on the back of each leaf, over-writing earlier drafts and illustrations. 

The closely-filled pages give a fascinating insight into Blake's creative process, allowing readers to follow the composition of some of his best-known work, including one of my own personal favourites, 'The Tyger'.

            

The notebook was to have a profound effect on Rossetti’s work and life, and rippled out to influence the art and poetry of his friends and family, including Christina Rossetti and Algernon Swinburne. 

Rossetti was intrigued with Blake’s rebellious reputation and with his rejection of conventional morality. The notebook is full of poems that promote free love and radical politics, including the humorous epigram ‘When a man has married a wife, he finds out whether/her knees and elbows are only glued together’, which accompanied a sketch of a man and a woman rising from a rumpled bed. 

              

The book also contained attacks on such well-known artists such as Sir 
Joshua Reynolds which chimed with Rossetti’s own rebellion against the establishment (Rossetti famously nicknamed the Academy’s first president Sir Sloshua). It was after reading Blake’s manuscript that Rossetti and his friends William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais decided to form the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood in 1848.

Rossetti showed the notebook to Alexander Gilchrist in the 1850s, which helped inspire him to write what would become the first major biography of the poet and visionary. And after Gilchrist died from scarlet fever, Rossetti helped his widow Anne Gilchrist to finish the magnus opus. 

  
Rossetti also edited Blake’s poems for publication. He has since been criticised for making changes to make the poems more palatable for a Victorian readership, but the fact remains the poems may have been lost if he had not done so.

Blake’s interest in the occult, in the Gothic and in the spiritual can all be seen to chime with the Pre-Raphaelites’ work, and his clearly delineated outlines and rich prismatic colouring can also be seen as influences. 

         

William Blake "Glad Day", c. 1794 


          

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 'Damsel of the Sanct Grael' c.1857  

The literary critic Arthur Symons has written: ‘it is to D.G. Rossetti that we owe the recovery, if not also the discovery, of Blake.’ 

I went to see the notebook (often called The Rossetti Manuscript) at the British Library when I was in London last June. They have very kindly microfiched each page so you can scroll back and forth as you please.

I really loved looking through the pages, seeing William Blake’s swift deft sketches and scribbled poems, and seeing Rossetti’s handwritten note on the inner cover, describing how he bought it. And, yes, of course, I had to put  reference to it in my novel about the Pre-Raphaelites, Beauty in Thorns, to be published July 2017. 

You can see the whole book at the British Library’s website

Here is the final manuscript version of 'Tyger, Tiger, Burning Bright', with the words below for ease of reading. 



Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 
On what wings dare he aspire? 
What the hand, dare seize the fire? 

And what shoulder, & what art, 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 
And when thy heart began to beat, 
What dread hand? & what dread feet? 

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain? 
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water'd heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see? 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


William Blake

BOOK REVIEW: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



BLURB:

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. 


She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. 


Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .


Lament is a dark faerie fantasy that features authentic Celtic faerie lore, plus cover art and interior illustrations by acclaimed faerie artist Julia Jeffrey.



MY THOUGHTS

Maggie Stiefvater made her name with a series of teen werewolf romances that were a cut above the usual, with acutely realised characters and luminous prose. Lament is similarly a book about a teenage girl falling in love with someone not of her world, though in this book the romantic hero is an assassin sent from the faerie world to kill her. It’s a clever premise, and once again Stiefvater’s teenage characters feel real and alive. 

THE 50/50 PROJECT: Finishing my Doctorate & Publishing my Exegesis

Monday, November 28, 2016

THE 50/50 PROJECT: Finishing my Doctorate & Publishing my Exegesis

 


My novel BITTER GREENS was written as the creative component of a Doctorate in Creative Arts at the University of Technology, Sydney.

It retells ‘Rapunzel’ in a Renaissance Venice setting, entwining the fairy tale with the dramatic true-life story of the 17th century French noblewoman who wrote the tale as it is best known, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force. She was second cousin to Louis XIV, the Sun King, and a maid-of-honour at the royal court in Versailles. She wrote her story ‘Persinette’ while locked away in an impoverished convent by the king, as punishment for her wild and wicked ways (which included dressing up as a dancing bear to try and rescue her much younger lover). 




BITTER GREENS  took me seven long years to research and write, including the four years that it took complete my doctorate. 

As the theoretical component of the degree, I also wrote a 30,000-word dissertation on the history of the Maiden in the Tower tale, examining why this tale haunted my imagination above all others, and why it has continued to be told and re-told for so many hundreds of years.



I am very glad and proud to announce that my doctoral dissertation is to be published in book form by the wonderful people at FableCroft.


THE REBIRTH OF RAPUNZEL: A MYTHIC BIOGRAPHY OF THE MAIDEN IN THE TOWER will also include a number of essays and articles on fairy tales and folklore. 

FableCroft said, in their press release: “This unique collection will include Kate’s research on the Rapunzel story that underpinned her stunning, award-winning novel, BITTER GREENS … The book is not your usual reference work, but an wonderful exploration of the subject matter, written in Kate’s clever and engaging style.” 


FableCroft have released both a hardcover print edition as well as an accessible ebook version, with cover art by Kathleen Jennings.



A SKETCH OF KATE FORSYTH BY KATHLEEN JENNINGS


You can buy the book now! I hope that you  find the book a fascinating companion book to BITTER GREENS




FURTHER READING:

MY HAND-WRITTEN NOTEBOOKS FOR BITTER GREENS 

THE 50/50 PROJECT: Winning the ALA Award for Best Historical Fiction

BITTER GREENS: The story behind my fascination with 'Rapunzel'

BITTER GREENS: The facts Behind the Fiction of the Sun King & his Court 

My Rapunzel Pinterest page 



PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!



BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

Sunday, November 27, 2016





BLURB:

Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery—a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after 90 years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh. 


A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago. In 1922, Violet is 15. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family, including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré. 


Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding? Violet is determined to control her future. 


But what will be the price of her rebellion?


MY THOUGHTS:

I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. Meanwhile, back in 1922, Violet lives the high life at the luxurious mansion but a forbidden friendship with her father’s Russian chauffeur opens up her eyes about the world and her own heart. 


A wonderful story for girls who like to imagine what life was like in the past.

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter of The Forest by Juliet Marillier

Saturday, November 26, 2016



BLURB:

Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.

But Sorcha's joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift-by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever. 

When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all...


MY THOUGHTS:

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 


THE STORY DOCTOR: How do you know when your manuscript is finally finished?

Monday, November 21, 2016

THE STORY DOCTOR

So many people email me asking me for writing advice I have decided to begin a new section on my blog where I share my answers to these questions. 
Over time, I hope to build a wonderful resource for aspiring writers to help them diagnose what may be ailing their story ... 


Hi Kate, I recently attended your Story Doctor course at the NSW Writer's Centre and loved it! Now I have a question. I've taken the medicine you prescribed, but how do I know when my 'patient' is ready for discharge? How do I know if my manuscript is ready for submission? Any tips would be massively appreciated. Thanks for the course too, it was amazing.


I'm so glad you enjoyed the course! Thank you so much.

It's always difficult to tell - even for established and experienced authors. At some point you've got to let the story go, and try and find a home for it.

My best advice is to use your intuition. Finish the final draft, and put it aside for a few weeks. Do something else. Let your subconscious mind work on it. Whenever a new idea or problem occurs to you, make a note of it, but don't work on the manuscript again. When a month has gone by, read it again with fresh eyes. Make notes of anything that jars you, or that seems like it may be a problem. Add them to your list. When you've read the whole manuscript through again, think about it for a while longer and note down anything that yu think needs a bit more work. Then work through your list slowly and methodically. Type it all up, check it's as clean as can be (i.e. no spelling mistakes or silly grammatical errors), and then think what you'd like to do next.

There are so many different ways to publish a book these days, you need to decide what you'd like personally.

Some authors like the control that comes with self-publishing, others would prefer not to have to worry about designing book covers and self-promotion, and so on. You may need to attend a few publishing seminars to decide what is the best step for you to take now.

Good luck with it!



Kate 



Kate Forsyth has been writing stories since she could first hold a pen, and has since sold more than a million copies worldwide.  She has a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, a Master of Arts in Writing, and a Doctorate of Creative Arts in Fairy Tale Studies, and is an accredited master storyteller. She teaches creative writing at all levels at many different venues. Check out her Appearances Page to find out where she is next speaking.  








BEAUTY IN THORNS: Christina Rossetti's Sleeping Beauty poem

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My next novel 'Beauty in Thorns' (to be published in mid-2017) tells the extraordinary love story behind the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones's famous painting of 'Sleeping Beauty', which he returned to half-a-dozen times over the forty-odd years of his career.

The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by myth and poetry and fairy tales. Edward Burne-Jones also painted 'Cinderella' (his model was his wife Georgie) while his best friend William Morris wrote the first ever creative response to 'Rapunzel' (I wrote a chapter on his poem in my doctoral exegesis, published as The Rebirth of Rapunzel.)



I very much wanted to write part of my novel from the point-of-view of the brilliant poet Christina Rossetti, who was the younger sister of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I have always loved her poetry and she is such a fascinating woman, all the thwarted desire of her sensuous and passionate nature being poured out in astonishing verse. However, I had to make the terrible decision to cut her out of the book as my story was simply growing too big and unwieldy, and Christina's story deserved to be given more space and time.

One day I would like to write a book about her - I hope that the chance will come.


Christina Rossetti was painted as the young Virgin Mary by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti when she was aged 20 & he was 22  


in the meantime, I thought I would share with you Christina Rossetti's powerful and disturbing poem, 'The Fairy Prince Who Arrived Too Late'. A dark inversion of the 'Sleeping Beauty' fairy tale, it was first published in Macmillan's Magazine in May 1863, when Christina was not yet 33 years old. Christina would later expand it into a long quest narrative, 'The Prince's Progress', which follows the prince on his journey to reach the waiting princess. These stanzas were then included as the poem's tragic denouement. I love this poem just as it is, though. I hope you love it too.   

 


The Fairy Prince Who Came Too Late

Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loitered on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.
 

Ten years ago, five years ago,
One year ago,
Even then you had arrived in time,
Though somewhat slow;
Then you had known her living face
Which now you cannot know:
The frozen fountain would have leaped,
The buds gone on to blow,
The warm south wind would have awaked
To melt the snow.
 
Is she fair now as she lies?
Once she was fair;
Meet queen for any kingly king,
With gold-dust on her hair,
Now these are poppies in her locks,
White poppies she must wear;
Must wear a veil to shroud her face
And the want graven there:
Or is the hunger fed at length,
Cast off the care?
 
We never saw her with a smile
Or with a frown;
Her bed seemed never soft to her,
Though tossed of down;
She little heeded what she wore,
Kirtle, or wreath, or gown;
We think her white brows often ached
Beneath her crown,
Till silvery hairs showed in her locks
That used to be so brown.
 
We never heard her speak in haste;
Her tones were sweet,
And modulated just so much
As it was meet:
Her heart sat silent through the noise
And concourse of the street.
There was no hurry in her hands,
No hurry in her feet;
There was no bliss drew nigh to her,
That she might run to greet.
 
You should have wept her yesterday,
Wasting upon her bed:
But wherefore should you weep today
That she is dead?
Lo we who love weep not today,
But crown her royal head.
Let be these poppies that we strew,
Your roses are too red:
Let be these poppies, not for you
Cut down and spread.

Christina Rossetti


The poem was published fifteen months after her sister-in-law Lizzie Siddal Rossetti died of a laudanum overdose. Dante Gabriel Rossetti often called his wife 'a dove', and they had had a very long and difficult relationship, with Rossetti often promising and then failing to marry her.  

It is probable that Lizzie suffered from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, and so the lines:

"The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait ..."

may well refer to the tragedy of Lizzie's death. 

I was unable to include Christina Rossetti as a character in 'Beauty in Thorns', but I did use her poems as epigraphs throughout the novel.

And one day I hope that I will be able to write more about her ....


     

BEAUTY IN THORNS: celebrating the Pre-Raphaelites!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


‘We cannot censure at present as amply or as strongly as we desire to do, that strange disorder of the mind or the eyes, which continues to rage with unabated absurdity among a class of juvenile artists who style themselves PRB.’ 
The Times, 1851

What were the Pre-Raphaelites?
In 1848 in England, a group of young painters rebelled against the Royal Academy, which rigidly adhered to rules laid down by the eighteenth century painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds. They wanted to paint in a more natural style, drawing from myth and fairytales and poetry, and trying to make their paintings more true to nature. In a spirit of fun and defiance, they formed a secret society called The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB).

Who were these young daring painters?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (age 20) founded the group along with Sir John Everett Millais (19), and William Holman Hunt (21).  Later, many artists followed the style set by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, and John William Waterhouse.  Although the Brotherhood was meant to be a secret, four others were later invited to join.  


Self-portrait by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

What were they trying to do?
The Pre-Raphaelites felt stifled by the rigidity of the Royal Academy's idea of what art should be. The PRB believed the only true great art came from before the 16th century Italian painter, Raphael (hence the society's name). The PRB wanted to produce works based on real landscapes and real models, and paid intense attention to accuracy of detail and colour.

What is so special about their art?
Instead of painting the typical landscapes and seascapes, the PRB drew their subject matters from medieval tales, fairy stories, and classical mythology.



'Ophelia' by John Everett Millais, modelled by Lizzie Siddal


Scandals of the Pre-Raphaelites

John Ruskin, one of the major critical supporters of the Pre-Raphaelites, never consummated his marriage to Effie Gray, with many believing he was shocked by the sight of her pubic hair. She annulled the marriage amidst a storm of scandal, and married his protégés, John Everett Millais. 

After Millais painted Lizzie Siddal as Ophelia, she caught pneumonia after being made to lie in freezing water for hours and almost died. 

Lizzie Siddall then became the muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and eventually – after many affairs and problems including her addiction to laudanum – they married. She only lived two more years, however, and some believed she committed suicide. Rossetti buried his poems in her grave, but seven years later had her exhumed so he could retrieve the manuscript. 

William Morris fell in love with Rossetti’s favourite model, Jane Burden, and married her. But Jane and Rossetti began a passionate affair after the death of Lizzie Siddall, and eventually the three managed a strange and painful ménage-a-trois.  



Jane Morris, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with Kelmscott Manor (the house Rossetti shared with the Morrises) in the background 


William Holman Hunt fell in love with his wife’s sister. After his wife died, he fled England with his sister-in-law so they could marry.

Edward Burne-Jones had an affair with his model, Mary Zambaco, who was a talented sculptor in her own right. When he refused to leave his wife and children, she tried to drown herself in Regent’s Canal. 

He painted his mistress over & over again, including this provocative image of her as Summer. He then painted his wife as Winter.

 

The love triangle between Edward Burne-Jones, his wife Georgie & his mistress Maria Zambaco, echoing that of his best friend William Morris with his wife Jane Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, are the subject of my new novel Beauty in Thorns - out in August 2017!

THE STORY DOCTOR: How important is research in the writing process?

Friday, November 11, 2016

THE STORY DOCTOR

So many people email me asking me for writing advice I have decided to begin a new section on my blog where I share my answers to these questions. 
Over time, I hope to build a wonderful resource for aspiring writers to help them diagnose what may be ailing their story ... 


Dear 
Kate

I am writing to you to ask, if you have a spare moment maybe you could answer a few questions for me for the essay I am writing on you in my Writer's at Work Class at Sydney Uni. I am a bit behind with my work - I just got a new full time job so trying to complete all my final uni assignments has really piled up! However, I understand you would have a lot going on to, so if you don't have time honestly don't worry about these, I completely understand.

I have decided that I'm going to look into research and its importance in writing. After every time I read a novel of yours, one of the main things I think about is how amazing the sheer amount of research you do for your novels is! 


1. What is the research process you go through for your novels? 

Because all of my books are set in different places and times, I need to go through an extensive stage of learning everything I can about the world of my story before I even start thinking about my characters and plot. I usually start with determining the exact setting and time-frame for the story, and then set out to read everything I can about it. I order a lot of books over the net. I like to own all my research books as I shall mark them with highlighters, scribble notes on them, and return to them again and again. I love Abe Books because I can buy a lot of my books second-hand that way, and I also love Google Books because I can preview the book and see if it is what I need. I do a lot of research online as well, following a trail of breadcrumbs as far as it will lead me before it peters out. 

As I read my research books or search the internet, I make meticulous notes in a notebook, recording the title, the author, the page number etc. This makes it easier for me to find the reference again when I am fact-checking. I also scribble down ideas as they come to me. The research often throws up the events in my story for me. I also note down other books I might need.    

I begin to compile a list of characters, noting down key facts about them - their birth and death dates, their backgrounds, etc. This can sometimes take a long time, because most of my historical novels are inspired by the lives of real women, and so there is often only a few scraps of information about them. For example, when I was writing THE WILD GIRL - the story of Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told the Grimm brothers many of their most famous fairy tales - the only known facts about her life were where she grew up (in Kassel, next door to the Grimm family), her father's occupation (an apothecary), and the dates of her marriage to Wilhelm Grimm and her death. It took some time for me to track down her birth-date, with the help of the local history department at Kassel library, and then I had to imagine many other details of her life by studying the lives of other young German women of the era. I create detailed outlines for each major character, including what I call an idiom dictionary (which is simply a list of favourite words, expressions, curses etc; different for each character.)

I also begin to compile timelines. This will be an ongoing project because each new research book I read will give me another tiny piece of the puzzle. I generally have a general timeline, with only brief notes for each event, and then a much longer timeline that may have as much as a page of notes for each event. I may also create a separate timeline for each major character, for ease of reference when I am working on their stories. 

As I read and research, I draw up lists of questions I need the answer to, and then I will slowly and methodically search out the answer to each question. 

I will also be slowly building a plot-line for my story, thinking about the inner architecture of the story, thematic structures, scenes I wish to include. The more research I do, the more story I have.

I will also search out experts in their field who may be able to help me, and I may employ a translator or research assistant . For example, when I was writing Bitter Greens - a retelling of Rapunzel interwoven with the true life story of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, the French noblewoman woman who first wrote the tale - I paid to have all of her fairy tales translated into English, many for the first time.  The stories were written in 1697, and so the French was archaic and the printing very old-fashioned and hard to read. My translator Sylvie really earned her money! 

I also read a lot of social history books as well - I like to know how my characters would have lived. I want to know if they wore underwear, what they ate, what they read, what they did with their urine, if they slept sitting up or lying down ... 

I try to do as much research as I can before I start writing, but the story will always throw up new questions and new problems, and often I will need to stop writing and find out what I need to know before I can go on.

 


2. Have you always done extensive research for each of your novels? Or does the process change for different stories you write? 

Naturally, it depends on what kind of novel I am writing. Research for a 30,000 word children's fantasy novel is obviously much less intense than research for a 160,000 historical novel for adults that has three different time periods in it!



3. One of the problems I have is knowing when you have enough research to start writing, how do you figure this out for yourself? 

I don't really think you can do too much research. The more you know, the more vivid the world will be. 

The trick is to learn as much as you can, internalise it, and then write the story. Too much exposition, too much detail, will weigh your story down. You need to include just enough to make the world feel real for the reader, and no more.

Sometimes authors will use the research process as an excuse to procrastinate. This usually means they are feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task they had set themselves. In this case, it can be a good idea to begin writing. Writing begets writing, and so it may help them overcome the psychological barrier that is holding them back.

Normally I know I'm ready to start writing when my head is full of scenes and snippets of dialogue and images that are keeping me awake, and I feel that seething excitement in the pit of my stomach as the story comes alive in my imagination    



4. Do you have a passion for research? Is it something you enjoy? 

I love research. I always say that research is simply reading with a purpose. I love to read, and I love to learn, and research allows me to do both at once. I also love the way that research throws up ideas for the story itself. It helps me plan my novel, which I think is absolutely crucial.



5. Some of your characters in your novels are real life historical figures; after having researched these figures, do you ever have trouble trying to fit actual elements of their lives into your storyline? Or do you feel in this case authors have a sense of creative license with them as characters in their story? 

I always take the known facts of their lives, and set those as my immoveable pegs. Then I try and understand the forces that shaped their psyche, and drove them to do what they did, and then weave my imagined story around those known facts.

The best example I can give you is the story of Dortchen Wild's life, which I told in THE WILD GIRL. 

I knew from primary sources such as letters and diaries that Dortchen grew up next door to the Grimm family, and that she first met Wilhelm when she was twelve and he was seventeen. I knew that she had a childish crush on him , thanks to a letter she wrote to her best friend, Lotte Grimm, when she was thirteen. I knew that her sister Gretchen told the very first fairy tale that the Grimm brothers collected when Dortchen was seventeen. I knew that Dortchen herself began to tell Wilhelm stories when she was eighteen, and that she was the source of almost a quarter of the tales in the first collection of fairy tales. I knew that they fell in love, but Dortchen's father forbade her from seeing Wilhelm. I knew that she defied her father, because she continued to tell fairy tales to Wilhelm. In many cases I knew where and when they were when she told him her tales, because Wilhelm wrote the name of the teller and, often in the case of Dortchen, the date and place the story was told in the margins of his first edition copy of the first fairytale collection.

What I did not know was why Dortchen defied her father - a grave misdeamonour for a young German Lutheran woman in the early 1800s - or why she told the stories she did. Some were very dark, very violent, very sexual.

I also knew that Dortchen ended up marrying Wilhelm ... but not till she was thirty, twelve years after the beginning of their romance. 

I would much have preferred her to marry him years earlier! Yet wondering why it took so long helped me to craft a much more interesting and powerful story (or so I believe).            



6. Was the research process for your PhD thesis any different from what you do with your novels?

Not in essence. It's the same slow, laborious reading and sifting of facts and recording of sources and following trails of clues and red herrings to find what is unknown or forgotten. The primary difference is the material I am reading. When researching for a novel, I read very widely and seek to immerse myself fully in the period. When researching for my exegesis, I was reading a lot of academic papers and seeking to understand what others have thought and written about a subject, and then responding to it. The method was the same, the outcome different. 


You may also find a blog post I wrote on '15 Research Tips from Kate Forsyth'  for Writers Bloc on research of interest to you.






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